Liberals pass on debating motion to amend medically assisted dying bill

A proposal for an emergency resolution that called on the Liberal government to amend its legislation on medically assisted dying has been rejected at the Liberal convention in Winnipeg.

Delegate pushes emergency resolution calling on government to amend Bill C-14

A Liberal delegate hoped her party would consider an emergency resolution calling on the Liberal government to amend its legislation on medically assisted death. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

A proposal for an emergency resolution that called on the Liberal government to amend its legislation on medically assisted dying has been rejected at the party's convention in Winnipeg.

In a decision announced Thursday night, the party's national policy and election platform committee decided that the proposed motion did not qualify as an emergency resolution.

"Emergency resolutions allow for the possibility of urgent new matters to be raised that have not had an opportunity to go through the party's established policy process because they could not have been foreseen," party spokesman Braeden Caley explained in a statement.

"In the present case, the committee found that this did not apply to this resolution, as the matter is the subject of continued longstanding debate and was already defeated through a democratic vote in one part of this convention."

Wendy Robbins, the author of the motion, said she was not surprised by the decision.

"However," she said, "I have been bathed in beautiful words of encouragement and support from friends and total strangers for a discussion that I gather Paul Martin himself said yesterday needs to still happen."

The Liberal government, which is seeking to have a bill passed before the Supreme Court's deadline of June 6, hopes the House will approve Bill C-14 on Tuesday.

The motion proposed by Robbins, policy chair of the Liberals' national women's commission, calls on the government to amend C-14 to remove the definition of "grievous and irremediable condition" and references to "reasonably foreseeable" death, while permitting advance requests for medical assistance in dying. 

Those changes are similar to the concerns raised by Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, the co-chair of a special committee on medically assisted death, who said earlier this month that he would not be supporting the government's bill.

Robbins believes it is not too late to change the bill, and that if the House of Commons doesn't do so, the Senate or the courts will.

"I've been told it's never too late at this stage to have amendments. And I'm also told the Senate will not accept it this way. And I'm also told it's extremely vulnerable to a charter challenge," she said. "Get it right. A bad bill isn't going to do us any good. And there won't be a legal void [if a bill is not enacted before the Supreme Court's deadline], we've been told that by many, many people."

Robbins brought her proposal for an emergency resolution to the women's commission on Thursday afternoon, but the commission declined to sponsor it. Robbins said some members of the commission had not seen her resolution. 

She then submitted her proposal to the party's national policy and platform committee.

In Winnipeg for the party convention, former prime minister Paul Martin told reporters that he supported the motion going to the floor for a debate and said that Parliament should not be bound by the arbitrary deadline of the Supreme Court.

The 'beginning of a conversation'

Liberal MP Karen McCrimmon spoke against the resolution during Thursday afternoon's meeting of the women's commission, arguing it was unrealistic to expect that the bill could be substantially amended at this point. 

"There's been months and months, probably even years, of work going into developing a piece of legislation that is now immediately going before the House. I just said I thought [the resolution is] creating unfair expectation that we would be able to vote here and that that would have an impact on a piece of legislation that's already been through first reading," McCrimmon said afterward.

"There's no way I think we're going to go back and start again."

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Treasury Board president Scott Brison suggested C-14 should be understood as part of a longer discussion about how to regulate medically assisted death.

"It's not the end of the conversation," he said. "It's an important step. It's one that, legislatively, is required to respond to the Supreme Court judgment. But the conversation … will continue."

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Aaron Wherry

Senior writer

Aaron Wherry has covered Parliament Hill since 2007 and has written for Maclean's, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. He is the author of Promise & Peril, a book about Justin Trudeau's years in power.